Conforming to the Society and Failure

I must warn that this piece is going to be long. It involves a lot about my journey through life. I know I sound really old when I say journey through life so, to clarify, I mean just three decades. Apparently, I have seen a lot in these thirty years. I have seen so much that I feel like an octagenarian. Octagenarian is a fancy word for an eighty year old. So, I feel like I am eighty plus. Even my friend circle mostly consists of people who are fifty to sixty years old.

So, what did I learn in these thirty years?

You will never be satisfied with yourself if you try to conform to society’s rules.

When I was a kid, I was a good scorer in school. I am talking about the time when I was around 10-11 years old. I had skipped a grade and was studying ahead of people of my age. It isn’t a big deal. When I was in class VI or 6th grade, suddenly this pressure of maintaining good scores emerged. Everyone around me expected me to score well in my exams. Not that it would affect their lives much but still there was this expectation. I couldn’t find no rhyme or reason for such an expectation. Nobody told me why I should maintain good score. Apparently, good scores meant I was a good boy. Good boys get bullied a lot by the way. Bullying affected my confidence and it remained that way till I was twenty. Certain things happened before that.

As I said before, there was this sudden expectation and my parents wanted me to score well too. My scores started slipping at the end of class VI. It’s not that I was slow or something. I just didn’t feel like studying. It had become a burden. I don’t do well with burdens, I realised that later. Like every Indian household, I was scolded a lot when my scores dropped. I don’t blame my parents. It was normal for them to expect me who used to score well before should do the same now. But, they should have explained why. Yes, the common reasoning was “good scores means you know the subject well”. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough reason for me. Nobody explained why studying is necessary.

I am not saying it isn’t necessary. Of course, in today’s world education is needed to lead a life where you are prepared for hardships. When I say education, I don’t mean rote learning. I mean proper education, where you understand what you are studying and why. I despise rote learning. I have given my views on education here. So, my grades slept till class X. Parents were bewildered why my grades were slipping. They had assumed that I knew why I should score well. I don’t know why since I was just a kid. In X board exams I just scored enough to take up science. Parents were happy. I had made my mark. Well, I should clarify something here. In Indian education system, anyone who doesn’t take up science is branded a loser. Apparently, science is the only worthwhile subject to study.

Fortunately, the reason my parents were happy was not because of the above-mentioned flimsy logic. They were happy because I had been interested in science since I was a child and I got it. But the others, the “society” now said, “okay, you won’t be called a loser but we will keep on trying to find other ways to convince ourselves that you are a loser.”

So, apparently I was not a loser but my scores started failing from the first exam itself. I find it funny now that I failed in Physics once. For those who don’t know me, I am brilliant in Physics. So, what happened? I kept asking myself. I couldn’t find an answer. My life was reduced to going to school and then tuitions and then back home to sit with books with rare occurrences of entertainment. I never got a chance to discover for myself because I was busy pleasing others with my scores which never improved. At the end of class XI, I went for rote learning, just to see what it was all about. I liked it since it fetched good scores. I didn’t know back then that I had zero idea about the subjects. Yeah that’s right, rote learning can fetch good scores but that makes a person a delusional duffer with no real knowledge on the subject. I got through XII Boards with flying colours apparently using rote learning. It was during the preparation for IIT-JEE that I realised I knew nothing. I hadn’t realised the truth yet.

Then it happened. When I was nineteen, I got the chance to study on my own terms. It was my second attempt at IIT JEE. I discovered something during that time. I discovered I was far more efficient than I used to think. At the same time, I understood why we were made to study those topics in that exact sequence. My dad wasn’t rich and I had limited resources. I knew if I asked from him, he would get costly books for me by borrowing money or something similar but I didn’t want that. I made best use of what I had. Get something clear though, I wasn’t a bookworm. I used to game for three hours everyday and that used to relax my brain and I enjoyed studying. The chapters for a subject are given in a sequence to build a proper foundation. That foundation is needed to accept and understand higher knowledge. It’s similar to the fact that, you can’t go to the first floor unless you cross the ground floor. For the record my parents didn’t know that I used to play games for three hours. They would have never approved of it. They never realised that it was the balance between work and entertainment that made me efficient. This also gave me a certain level of independence. No one had told me how much studying was enough for cracking IIT so, I quantified it in my own way. The target was to do better than the previous day. When you compete with yourself, there’s no upper limit to your standard. Of course, there’s a specific condition, You have to give your best each day. There might be a question, why to work hard for a good college at all?

First of all, Engineering or medical aren’t the only options. There are numerous fields to work in but you have to be honest to yourself about your choice.

Second of all, When you choose a goal, you have to work for it. Nobody is going to offer it on a platter. If you don’t know what your goal is then work for your current interest. It can’t be doing nothing.

Third, if you want to achieve a goal, it’s always going to be extremely difficult. As I said, nobody brings it to you on a platter. True, focused efforts are needed to achieve your goal.

So, after slogging for a year I got through IIT, in a department of my choice. I am not saying that IIT should be the ultimate goal for everyone. Everyone is free to choose where they want to go but it should be your choice and not a burden disguised in the delusion of choice. For the information, IITs are the topmost colleges for technical education in India. No, they are just the topmost, they are nearly not good enough.

Guess what? Soon, in my first year, I learnt that my choice was governed by the same delusion that I mentioned earlier. Again this pressure of scoring well and no room for freedom of thought. Initially, my plan was to get a degree and then go for MBA and land a well paying job. Money, yeah. I was targeting money. I tried to slog but as I mentioned earlier, I don’t do well with burdens. Apparently, everyone seemed to be worried about my grades even though they weren’t affecting their lives. I saw one of the biggest ironies of life at IITs. You have to be among the best brains of the country to get into IIT which are few in number. That means you have to be highly intelligent and intelligent people can’t behave under a set of rules. They have their own thought processes which need guidance. That wasn’t provided at IIT. The very people who were supposed to think differently were forced to think along the same lines without any purpose. I was confused for a long time till I took up an administrative role and realised that mundane work is not for me. It was physically impossible for me to do a job.

Slowly, I lost touch with the “academics” and grades slipped further. The people around me branded me as a loser. Why wouldn’t they? I had apparently failed according to their standards. Nobody realised that maybe I was not interested in the standards set by them. I simply couldn’t find a reason why I should get an engineering degree. I started working towards my own objectives. I had started teaching at high school level and I enjoyed it. It posed a challenge, to shape fresh minds, to guide them towards the future they want. I studied, researched on how to improve myself. In a few years, I had made my decision. I didn’t want to go for a job. I could simply not take orders which didn’t make any sense. I decided to bring a revolution in the state of education.

I was called crazy by people, some had branded me as a failure since I didn’t take up a corporate job. There were people who tried to force their opinion on me just because I didn’t fit their definition of an IITian. It was hard to accept at first. It was hard because I believed I had a challenging goal which could benefit a lot of people and the “society” was rejecting it. Yes, my initial set of students saw me just a means to their goal of high paying jobs. Their parents had no respect for what I was trying to do just because I didn’t fit their definition of a working man. Apparently, since I didn’t go for a job or I wasn’t teaching at some school, I was not good enough to be respected. Ironically, they were in need of my services but were not ready to acknowledge that.

I’ll say I am fortunate to have met some people who provided whole hearted support. I’ll always be grateful towards them. Those people are partly why I kept going on.

The way the general population reacted, hurt but I worked slowly towards my goal. My responsibility was to do justice towards my goal and that was providing knowledge both in academia and outside that boundary. Yes, sense of responsibility is important. There are people who just work to earn money to support their family with no respect for their work. These are the actual failures. Unfortunately, most people in this society belong to that category. They simply don’t have a vision for the future. They never think about the consequences of their actions and then blame various other factors. One thing I realised in my experiences is, if I can’t achieve a certain objective, it’s my fault.

My path till now has been built a lot based on introspection but I never conformed to the expectations of the society. I had formed a vision that would benefit all and I am satisfied with it. Yes, I have made mistakes. Everyone does. The important part is to learn from those mistakes and not let them happen again.

  • Every person’s goal should be to do something that contributes to the whole of mankind and not affect anything else adversely.
  • Respecting nature is imperative since we coexist with it and our lives depend on it.
  • The means should never become the end. Money is required for survival but it should never become the ultimate goal.

The society may have some rules which are for common benefit but that doesn’t mean all the rules or expectations are beneficial. A person needs to be able to judge the difference.

The same people who used to call me crazy before, now say that I am doing good work. That’s the level of hypocrisy they maintain.

So, I gradually stopped caring about the unjustified expectations and live my life on my own terms. I don’t like bothering anyone and am pretty satisfied with my life, doing what I do.